Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Friends at various times have encouraged us to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. While it did sound interesting, it never seemed to fit in with our travel plans. That changed on this year’s visit to Salmon, Idaho. Normally, we would take 2 days for the 1000-mile drive from Albuquerque to Salmon, staying overnight in Price, Utah. But we took an extra half-day this time and drove a longer route that went through western Colorado.

There wouldn’t be a lot of extra time to spend along the way but we would be driving through a part of Colorado we hadn’t seen before. We made plans to spend Tuesday night in Montrose, CO, and Wednesday night in Rock Springs, WY. Wednesday would have some flexibility, as far as time to stop and look at some of the interesting places we knew were on the route.

It was the desk clerk at the motel in Montrose who suggested we check out Black Canyon of the Gunnison. She said the entrance was a 20-minute drive out on the highway east of town. Lee usually has scoped out ahead of time all the points of interest so I was surprised that he didn’t know we were that close. Even though we needed to head west out of town this morning, we decided to take the short detour to the east and check out the canyon. That turned out to be a good decision.

“Spectacular” is the one adjective that kept coming to mind as we drove along the South Rim Road, stopping at each of the 11 overlooks. Well, not quite, as we saw the time slipping by we did skip a couple of overlooks. This is definitely a place worth coming back to spend more time exploring. Especially since August is the height of fire season in the West. Like our trip to Glacier National Park last August the dramatic views of distant vistas that we should have been seeing were lost in a haze of smoke from a number of different wildfires.
park entrance

Lee is enjoying the view at the first lookout.

canyon 1

canyon3

canyon 2

Painted Wall, at 2300 feet, the highest wall in Colorado.
On the road north from Grand Junction we saw one of the fires that had been making all the smoke.

Anniversary Bonus

A last-minute plan to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary with a two-day hiking excursion in the Sacramento Mountains turned out to have an added bonus.  We had an unexpected opportunity to once again intercept our favorite Celadon driver, this time on a Laredo to LA load he was hauling.

We were already on the road Tuesday, headed to Alamogordo, when Mike messaged the news that he would be coming through New Mexico. As usual, it was uncertain what his schedule would be–when he’d be passing through and how much time he could spare for a stop. But we told him to keep us posted and we would see if we could arrange a meet up.

As originally planned, we stayed overnight in Alamogordo and Wednesday morning headed up into the mountains to enjoy the beautiful spring day.

Anniversary selfie. Tunnel Vista stop on road to Cloudcroft.

After getting some maps and information at the ranger station in Cloudcroft, we decided to do an out-and-back hike on part of the Rim Trail. All of the years I lived in Alamogordo I don’t think I was even aware that there was such a trail. I think in those days I had too many other things to deal with.

First National Forest trail in NM to be a National Recreation Trail and I had never been on it!
Some aspen, but too early for leaves.
Douglas Fir are the big trees here, not the Ponderosa Pine we are used to.
View from Rim Trail of Sierra Blanca to the north.
View from Rim Trail looking east to Alamogordo and White Sands.

After the hike we drove further up the road to the Sunspot Solar Observatory. I do remember having gone there several times in the past. But now I was saddened to see how the place is virtually abandoned, its functions taken over by newer technologies. At least it is still possible to take a self-guided tour through the complex, reading information signs in front of the various buildings and telescopes. We finished our day with a stroll through the cute little mountain town of Cloudcroft. It seems to have gotten a few more tourist attractions from what I remembered, even an ice cream shop where we rewarded ourselves with a couple of scoops.

Shortly after getting back to Alamogordo we heard from Mike that he had made good progress that day driving across Texas. He would be able to meet us Thursday morning for breakfast in Las Cruces. So instead of spending a second night in Alamogordo, as we’d originally planned, we drove to Las Cruces and got a motel room off the interstate close to the truck stop he directed us to.

The sun hadn’t yet made it over the Organ Mountains this morning when he pulled off the interstate but I was there on the sidewalk waving and jumping up and down as the Celadon truck approached the intersection. We had almost an hour to visit over breakfast before he had to get back on the road.

Until we meet again!

Our original plan for today had been to do another hike in the Alamogordo area. But we did some replanning since we would be now be driving up I-25.  We decided to check out Elephant Butte Lake, a place we’ve never stopped at before in our travels. A Google query turned up a map for West Lakeshore Trail, which appears to be a fairly new development.  We couldn’t do the whole trail but picked a section that would give us a good view of the lake.  I was interested to read on the sign that this stretch of trail is part of the work-in-progress Rio Grande Trail that eventually will cross the length of New Mexico.


I was glad to be on this trail in March and not during the summer. Even though it’s a lakeside trail it really is desert hiking.

Des Moines, New Mexico

Until Mike’s phone call around midnight last night, I didn’t even know there was a place called Des Moines, NM. Yesterday afternoon we had made the 200-mile trip from Albuquerque to Raton, NM, with a plan to meet up with Mike as he was hauling a load from Dallas to Denver. After cutting northwest from Amarillo on Highway 64/87, his route would bring him through Raton. He hoped his schedule would allow him to spend some time in Raton, and, since we didn’t have anything scheduled for Monday, the meetup looked doable.

As the day progressed I kept in touch with Mike to see how things looked for him. It’s easy for us to plan a drive from Albuquerque to Raton with a reasonable estimate of our arrival time. It’s not that easy for a truck driver to figure out what time he will be in a particular place. Mike’s 14-hour clock started ticking yesterday in Dallas when he drove to the customer site at the scheduled time for getting his trailer loaded. If there were significant delays in that process he wouldn’t have enough time on his clock to make the 575 miles to Raton before having to shut down for the night.

The loading process went smoothly, but somewhere on the stretch from Wichita Falls to Amarillo a highway accident required a detour, slowing Mike down. We were already settled in our motel room in Raton by that time. Mike said he would still try to make Raton before he had to shut down, which would be sometime around midnight. I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep so I told him to call when he shut down, regardless of the time.

When my phone buzzed a little after midnight I wasn’t asleep and quickly opened the Map app on the phone to see how far he had gotten. And that’s where I saw Des Moines, the nearest named spot to the rest area where he was parked. It was less than 40 miles from Raton, which was good news for keeping to today’s plan of spending time with Mike.

When we met up with him at the rest area this morning he said he could hang out with us until 2 this afternoon, at which time he needed to be back at the truck to grab a couple of hours of sleep before making the drive to Denver. He’s scheduled for unloading at midnight tonight, another one of those crazy scheduling things that prevent truckers from having a normal life.

Anyway, we had a wonderful time touring Capulin Volcano National Monument. I’m currently taking a Geology class at our local community college and we just finished a chapter on volcanoes. There’s nothing like being in the field to help with the learning process.

Of course, the best part was spending time with Mike. I think of all the years he lived in Iowa and the special place in my heart for Des Moines, Iowa, because of the many summers doing the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Who could have imagined that one day Mike would be a long haul truck driver and we would be eating lunch at a restaurant in Des Moines, NM.

Capulin Volcano is the type of volcano known as a cinder cone.
Sierra Grande in the distance is a shield volcano.